Special meeting called to discuss CPD, sheriff's department cons - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

Special meeting called to discuss CPD, sheriff's department consolidation


Columbia City Council plans to discuss a possible consolidation of the Columbia Police Department with the Richland County Sheriff's Department in a special Wednesday meeting at 5:30 p.m.

Councilman Cameron Runyan said Monday morning he'd like to see Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott run a unified police service, which would fold the Columbia Police Department into the sheriff's department.

Runyan believes the city's police department will be more effective if Lott, whom he classified as the "pioneer of one of the very best agencies in our state," was in charge.

A consolidation of the two departments would create the largest law enforcement agency in the state with more than 1,000 officers, according to the councilman.

Runyan said under a consolidation, city officers would have access to more vehicles, aircraft and a state-of-the-art crime lab.

The councilman said Lott is supportive of the proposal. "He, like I, believes it's good government."

The idea, which was discussed in detail by city council four years ago, is being rejuvenated just days before city manager Teresa Wilson is expected to announce her choice to become the new police chief.

Council ultimately rejected the proposal in 2010. "It's a mistake we should not repeat again," said Runyan.

Runyan will ask Wilson to put the police chief search on hold until the consolidation can be discussed.

"I can tell you that there's more than one person that believes she should put the pause button on the police chief search," said Runyan.

"This is not re-inventing the wheel," said Runyan who noted several cities including Charlotte, Jacksonville, FL and Salt Lake City, UT have similar operational plans.

Runyan said because Lott is an elected official he would be directly accountable to the people of the city. "I would not support him being accountable to an un-elected bureaucrat," said Runyan. "The sheriff would have the authority to hire and fire at will."

The proposal, according to Runyan, has already been discussed among some council members. However, at least one council member doesn't agree with Runyan's timing.

"For the last five months the City Manager Teresa Wilson has conducted an inclusive, yet exhaustive search for a new police chief," said Tameika Isaac Devine. "Numerous candidates have been interviewed and the search is now in its final stages.  I along with several of my colleagues in City Council are confident in the city manager's police chief candidate selection process. "

"If Mr. [Runyan] was truly serious about this proposal he could have put this proposal forward months ago," said Devine. "I am not sure if this is just a case of bad timing in the 11th hour of the search or Mr. [Runyan] has employed the tactic of 'bait and switch' denying the residents of Columbia a say in how public services are delivered, undermining the democratic process, and creating a hostile work environment for the incoming police chief."

"I encourage Council member [Runyan] to allow the city manager to complete her search and choose the best candidate to lead the great men and women of our police force," concluded Devine.

Runyan said the proposal would be brought up for discussion at next Tuesday's council meeting.

If approved, Runyan said he believes a deal would be in place by July 1, the beginning of the city's fiscal year.

Randy Scott resigned from the post in April 2013, citing a battle with post-traumatic stress disorder. Ruben Santiago took over the position on an interim basis, but was not named as one of the five finalists.

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